So, it’s time for something a little bit different on here; it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. This is something that’s very close to my heart as mental health has impacted my whole life, both from growing up with people who have mental health difficulties and from my own struggles. I have OCD, Depression, Anxiety, Cyclothymia (a type of Bipolar Disorder) and have had disordered eating for over 10 years. I’ve had a couple of mental breakdowns and have battled with self harm. My mental health has fluctuated so much over the years, particularly since I was 18 which is when I first got my diagnosis, initially for OCD. Over those years, I’ve seen so much change in social media and the way that we use it and it impacts upon our lives, and I’d definitely say that it’s impacted upon my mental health.
I really got thinking about this post thanks to Ashleigh on Twitter posting a call for bloggers to write a bit about how social media, such as Instagram, impacts upon mental health through promoting the idea of the “perfect” body or persona. It’s something that I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years that I’ve been active on social media, and increasingly so since I’ve become more aware of mental health problems.
Social media is amazing; it brings like-minded people together, adds a whole new dimension to your passions and hobbies, and can open up so many opportunities. It can also benefit people with mental health issues as they can find people with similar experiences and get a sense of belonging.
However, the opposite is also true.
Mental health can be significantly impacted upon by social media, and it’s not always good. Speaking as someone with a nice collection of mental health conditions, social media can heighten obsessions, the feeling of not being good enough, comparing yourself to others, questioning your own mental health…the list goes on. Sites such as Instagram show the things that people want you to see, a snapshot of their life, which so often has been carefully crafted to reflect what they want you to, as opposed to the reality. I am a member of the bookish community, and whilst most people are so supportive and lovely, you can still feel like an outsider all the time and think you don’t fit in, that you’re not as good as other bloggers or bookstagrammers, you don’t have friends within the community, that your interactions are all one way. As social media continues to grow and be an important part of our lives, these anxieties and feelings are only increasing as the online world merges with reality.
So, how has social media affected my conditions?
It’s had both a positive and negative impact. For example, when I was really struggling with dark thoughts, Tumblr and Twitter would be my outlets where I could just get those feelings out. I figured that if I’d put out there that I was suicidal, it was taking that thought away from me. One thing I established when having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy was that I put too much importance on the power of thoughts, a common trait amongst people with OCD and anxiety disorders, so this ability to take those thoughts away but show that they’re there and they’re real as such was very useful. On the other hand, I feel like an outsider so often on social media, and like I don’t fit in. I’m sure lots of people feel this way, but when you have a mental health condition those feelings are amplified tenfold and can have such a detrimental effect on your happiness. Why didn’t that person follow me back when they’re clearly a small account? Why don’t I get invited to blogger meet ups? Why didn’t they reply? It all seems so petty and small, but the thoughts of not being good enough can really take over.
Do you agree about the impact social media can have on your mental health? How can we tackle this growing problem?